Ernest Hemingway’s classic novel A Farewell To Arms tells the story of American lieutenant Frederic Henry, who serves in the ambulance corp of the Italian Army during World War I. It charts his relationship with a British nurse and his experiences on the battlefront. Enough has already been written about A Farewell To Arms, and so I will steer clear of any comments on the novel itself. Instead, this review will be more of a glance at the extra material that accompanies the new special edition released recently by William Heinemann. To whit: the author’s original introduction to the 1948 edition of the novel; images of some of the original handwritten manuscript pages; early drafts of some key passages of the book; a foreword by Hemingway’s son and a new introduction by his grandson; and all of Hemingway’s thirty-nine alternative endings to the story.
First, the introductions and forewords. Hemingway’s is nothing new, but provides a context for the story and is the perfect lead-in to the world of A Farewell To Arms. The contributions from his son and grandson are, as you might expect, little but complimentary, but still illuminating. For me they provided a link with the modern day that enhanced the experience of reading.
The first drafts and original manuscript pages are interesting too. Deletions and backtracks are common, and it is intriguing to see just how messy Hemingway’s original notes were. They put to bed the idea that the novel was drawn fully-formed from the mind of a genius, and show instead the hard work and toil that went into the crafting of the story.
The claim of thirty-nine alternate endings is perhaps a little overstated. Some of the endings are little more than brief notes, or extracts from elsewhere in the text that could, in some light, have formed an ending. It’s certainly nothing startlingly revelatory, but it follows on nicely from the early drafts and gives the text a vibrant and living feel.
I’m in two minds about how much the original material adds to the reading of A Farewell To Arms. There is, after all, a reason that Hemingway settled on the final text as it was. Why should we pore over his discarded fragments of writing when they were, ultimately, discarded for a reason? On the other hand said fragments are truly intriguing and helped renew my appreciation for the text.
Perhaps fans of Hemingway’s work and scholars will get the most from this new edition of A Farewell To Arms, but the novel is worth a read by anyone. This edition is beautifully produced, and is a wonderful edition of a classic novel.
Christopher Frost is a writer from the North of England.